Kimberley, South Africa


Klein, Miriam

Miriam Klein, widow of Mike born 1927 died 2014 aged 86

Eulogy for Miriam Klein by her son Jeffrey Klein in Vancouver March 2014.

Thank you all for coming

My dear father Mike (Alav Ha- shalom) much like me, could not hold a tune and perhaps that is why he never sang Eshet Chayil every Shabbat to my mother. Yet my mother or Miriam as we lovingly called her was a true Woman of Valour whose worth was far more than rubies or pearls.

My mother was born into an observant family in Muizenberg South Africa in 1927. Her father instilled in her both a love of Judaism and a sense of compassion for humankind. Her father witnessed her interest in music and even though of modest means he bought her a Steinway Baby Grand Piano. This fostered a lifelong love of classical music that provided her with comfort throughout her life. I recall her passionately teaching classical piano to her students and using her encyclopaedic knowledge of music, composers and recitals to debate with her musical friends.

Her mother died unexpectedly when Miriam was just 16 and my mother stepped into the role of matriarch for her father and her brother. This was a role (never a burden) that she fulfilled until they both passed away. Both of them lived in her home for many years of her married life. Her brother died just 10 months ago which was when her health began to decline significantly. I cannot help but wonder whether she felt the need to care for her brother again.

My father and mother met and married in Cape Town and she later moved with him when he joined the family business in Kimberley where they lived for almost 20 years.

Kimberley was a small town with a Jewish community of fewer than 100 families. On hearing of her passing, friends from around the world have recalled how my mother was a pillar of that community.  When we had no rabbi she organized for kosher meat to be sent by train into town. In the heat of Kimberley only one out of every two shipments was edible. She always marvelled at how, when only one cow was slaughtered it was possible to get 4 tongues for all those who wanted it.

She was involved in the leadership of the Union of Jewish Woman and the Womens Zionist League. She catered at the shul for simchas and yomtovs. At the height of the apartheid years she ran a soup kitchen in the black townships. She fundraised and worked in the community with an energy that was hard to replicate.

When Rael and I came along she was concerned about the Jewish character of our lives and so on her own accord she started and ran the Hebrew Play Centre in our back yard. The school had a Jewish program and it instilled strong Jewish values in a generation of Kimberley Jews. Before long the kindergarten was filled to capacity and it moved to a more permanent home in a building adjoining the local shul.

You could not wish for a more supportive and loving mother than my mom. She would do anything for her children and in typical Jewish mother form her angels could do no wrong. I remember an incident with my brother and the school principal where Rael had clearly strayed across some boundary. My mother was vehement in her defence of her son and I think the principal ended up apologising to my brother. She supported us in all we did and was there to catch us if we should fall. I don’t recall her using Jewish guilt as an incentive but perhaps she was so smart in its application that I did not notice.

Our friends were welcomed into our home, fed and entertained. My mother had a way of engaging people that fostered a depth of friendship within minutes of meeting her. We’ve had an outpouring of messages from those same friends as to my mother’s warm and caring character.

As a grandmother she worshipped her grandchildren and felt blessed in the time she had with them. She managed to engage with them in whatever their interests were. She was enthusiastic about piano recitals, dance recitals and their sports. I know her passing leaves a void in all their lives.

As a wife she similarly stood by my father in every aspect of life. She worked in the business, ran a warm and welcoming Jewish home and loved him until the end. Ingrained in my memory is the image of them walking hand in hand - into their 70’s and 80’s – down the streets of Kerrisdale, Vancouver. She missed him terribly when he passed away but I take comfort in knowing they are walking, hand in hand, again today.

I would like to thank all of you who have cared for, visited or just shared a thought for my mom during the past few difficult years. The doctors and nursing staff at the Brier and particularly Nina my mom’s faithful caregiver for the past few years – thank you all for your care and support.

I believe there are many legacies Miriam leaves behind.  She taught us so much. Her compassion, her belief in the goodness of all, the many whose lives she has touched. We are comforted by the memories of the many wonderful roles she played in our lives and the lives of so many.

I learned of one amazing legacy just 2 years ago when I travelled back to Kimberley with my family. The Hebrew Play Centre still exists – 45 years later – in the grounds of the shul. It is still filled to capacity and on Chanukah you still can hear little voices singing Maoz Tzur through the windows – yet there is not one Jewish child left in Kimberley. But it’s ready if one should arrive.

Many women have done worthily, but you surpass them all. Thanks mom, we will miss you.